Washington Scablands Cowgirl – Rhonda Lynn Kelly

by Elsie Eide Kelly

Our cowgirls ride for the love of riding and the thrill of working in the outdoors riding hills and canyons, moving cows through some of the roughest country in the Pacific Northwest. They’re good at what they do. The ranchers know that. These women have a lot of heart and “git up and go.” In most cases, more than enough for this tough job.

Rhonda Lynn Kelly is one of those women, the majority of whom grew up on horseback. Riding from a very young age, bareback on her first obnoxious ponies, she graduated to being trained English for the first few years of her horseback career. She learned how to properly balance a horse as it moved through its gates and learned to jump, which she loved. She developed a good, strong seat and soft hands.

Then, much to her mother’s chagrin, she began working for a cutting horse trainer in Reno, NV. She fell in love with Quarter Horses, changing from her training on Warmbloods and the myriad of Thoroughbreds that her mother gathered (hoping her daughter would ride over the fences and into the world of Dressage). Thinking about it, there may have been a cowboy or two who caught her fancy and guided her toward their world.

Rhonda had ideas different from her mother’s. Setting the English world aside, she became obsessed with Western riding and moved smoothly between Cutting and Reining horses. She learned to train during this time and started her own horses as her confidence grew. She moved to different states in the NW and learned more and more. In Oregon she worked on a large Quarter Horse operation and put her skills to good use. In Nevada she pushed cows, on her little black mustang, from pasture to pasture, secure in her training on cutting horses and the fact that her horse was the best she’d ever ridden. As the wide open spaces became more appealing to her she moved from work in Reining into the hardcore, challenging Washington Channeled Scablands discovering how a new, adventurous life was going to change her forever.

Sweetness, Rhonda and LIlly

Riding from her mother’s small ranch in the Scablands, she traveled the BLM land all around and learned to work the coulees and the steep hillsides on her quarter horses. Eventually she caught up with some ranchers who had leases on all that land, and started riding for them branding, sorting cows and calves then turning them out and pushing them onto summer pastures. She loved it – the camaraderie, the horses, the adventure. Every day brought different scenarios to maneuver through.

She learned to accept scratches on her boots, saddle and hands. She was happy when told her horses had performed well and that she was doing a good job. Hurt a few times, she doesn’t blame her horses saying that it was “operator error” each time. Broken ribs, bruises, shoulder injury, now it’s a severed ACL on her mounting leg (left) which required surgery to replace and repair ligaments in the knee. She’ll be recovering for a few months but is constantly testing her limits, anxious to get back on a horse.

Branding and moving cattle will start within the month and she’s distressed that she can’t be part of it all til later in the summer. There is more ground work at certain times of the year at spring branding and fall gathering, so she may be able to do some of the paperwork involved in processing the cattle, which helps the ranchers work smoothly and quickly.

In the meantime, at home she has three young horses that she is bringing along, two of which have never been ridden but will be ready to ride this spring. She has two more that she can use on cattle now. Two is the usual number of horses that riders take to the corrals. Each is used until tired then the switch is made. At the end of the day, each horse has put in a full day and the riders are plenty tired but can’t rest until the horses are fed, watered and put up for the night. It’s a long, hard day. It’s all worth it, though, because she’s been on horses most of the day and ridden with friends. It makes her truly content to be healthy and strong enough most of the time to keep doing what makes her happy.

Rhonda loves this work more than anything else she has done in her life. She talks about the wide open country, the big sky, the ravines that suddenly appear as she rides out, usually with springs and creeks in which to water the horses and stop for a break. The wildlife she sees as she rides always makes her smile and wonder how she was lucky enough to land here. The friends she has made, the ranchers she loves working with make her reflect on her life and be grateful for what she has. She is able to follow her passion and make it work.

Rhonda has permanently settled into this area and rides for several ranchers within the Scablands range and is always ready for the call to saddle up.